Vegas Over/Under: 39.5
It looks like we may be seeing the final death throes of "The Process". This is cleary the year when the 76ers management would like to flip the switch and start competing. Whether or not the moves they're making to do that are the right ones remains to be seen.
The biggest move was signing Joel Embiid to a 5-year, $150(ish) million dollar contract, despite the fact that he's only been healthy for a few dozen games in his first three seasons. I have lots of thoughts on this contract, but most of them fall into the "Wow, was that stupid!" bucket, and that's despite rumors that there are many injury claused built in to the contract. Even if he never suffers another injury in his career, it's a $150 million gamble that a player lives up to "potential" -- and it's a gamble they didn't have to take. If Embiid lives up to his potential this season, he'll become a restricted free agent, and Philly can match any offers anyway.
The second-biggest move was signing J.J. Redick to a one-year, $23 million dollar contract -- a "let's win now" move if ever there was one. This is one move I actully feel pretty good about. Reddick might be a bit overpaid, but the Sixers have to spend money anyway, and he certainly fills a need; the 76ers are atrocious on the wing. Their best wing player of the last 4 years is arguably Robert Covington, and he'd have trouble cracking the starting lineup almost anywhere else.
This is an improved team. I love T.J. McConnell, it's nigh-impossible for Saric not to improve from last year's disastrous numbers, Amir Johnson brings some great depth, Reddick means they finally have NBA-caliber talent at both wing positions, and I'm maybe more bullish than I appear on Embiid. But the optimism around them seems a bit too much like wishful thinking. Is the availability of Simmons and the addidtion of Reddick really worth 11 extra wins? Isn't it a tad optimistic to assume the Embiid a) plays 70 games or cracks 1500 minutes and b) improves a lot? Isn't it a little crazy to put on parlay on the scenario that both Simmons and Fultz will be good players right away in year one, when rookies almost never are?
If I had to put my own over-under on this team, I'd lick my thumb, stick in the air, and say 36. But there's a lot of variance here, which is why, if you're the betting type, I prefer the long-shot plays on this team, and have placed one. But more on that in another article!
New York Knicks
Vegas Over/Under: 28.5
The Knicks are a bad team. I don't think I'm getting too controversial by saying this. But I suspect that they aren't as bad as they look on paper, and the primary reason for that is, of course, Carmelo Anthony.
Now, it's not like I think the absense of Anthony really helped the Knicks. For all his flaws -- and there really are many -- it's not like there was a super-star small forward sitting on the Knick's bench just waiting for his moment in the sun. I think it's more accurate to say that the loss of Anthony won't really matter, and this is important to emphasize because the over/under line took about a 3-4 game hit when the trade to OKC went through.
Because New York's tanking incentives remain pretty low, I think 30+ wins is realistic for this team. You can probably count on some improvement in Porzingi's play now that both Melo and Phil (and his hated version of the Triangle) are gone. The addition of Kanter will give them some offensive punch and offensive rebounding in the front court, and there are just a few too many capable NBA players on this roster for them to drift too far towards the bottom. Given the fact that the 8th seed in the East will probably be a 38 win team, they may be in the playoff hunt longer than you'd expect, as well, which might count for some extra wins in February or March.
Additions: Akil Mitchell, Allen Crabbe, D'Angelo Russell, DeMarre Carroll, Jacob Wiley, Jarrett Allen, Jeremy Senglin, Kamari Murphy, Milton Doyle, Tahjere McCall, Timofey Mozgov, Tyler Zeller, Yakuba Ouattara
Subtractions: Andrew Nicholson, Greivis Vasquez, Luis Scola, Brook Lopez, Anthony Bennett, Randy Foye, Justin Hamilton, Chris McCullough, Bojan Bogdanovic, K.J. McDaniels, Archie Goodwin, Yogi Ferrell
My take on this team is largely the same as it was last year:
- This is a bad team
- But it has no incentive to lose, since they don't own their 2018 pick
- It has many incentives to play hard, mostly in the form of players looking to get big contracts elsewhere.
- It's got some solid NBA veterans
On top of this, though, it also jettisoned Brook Lopez, who's an anual favorite in Boxscore Geeks' "Worst Player Who Everyone Somehow Thinks Is Good" competition. I expect that neither Zeller nor Mozgov is a downgrade at the center position.
There's hope that Russell figures some things out in his third year, Jeremy Lin is a pretty good NBA player whom people always underrate just because he never lived up to "Linsanity", and DeMarre Carroll is a solid wing player. If you combine that with the fact that this team will probably put forth their best effort most nights, I think 30 wins is a reasonable expectation for this team. I know I said something like this last year, too, but this time, it really feels different, I promise!
Vegas Over/Under: 46
Toronto is more-or-less just letting it ride this year, which is not necessarily a bad thing, considering they've been in the top of the East's ladder for a few seasons now. Although they made some moves that might make them marginally worse, none of them seem like they'll have a huge impact.
C.J. Miles isn't that much worse than Carroll, and althought Tucker feels like a big loss, remember that Casey rather inexplicably didn't trust him with lots of minutes anyway, so the magnitude of the loss won't be that high.
As always, this team's success will be directly tied to Lowry's health. Beyond LeBron James, it's hard to think of another player who's so important for his team's success. Toronto really suffered last year during the 21 games that Lowry sat, but looked like a serious threat to win the East while he was healthy. A secondary consideration is going to be whether Sege Ibaka ever returns to the rim-protecting, rebounding menace that he once was -- without that, this team will be stuck in Tier 2.
One of this team's biggest hurdles, and the thing that keeps them stuck on the "treadmill of mediocrity", is DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan is a volume scorer whose shot selection makes him both very easy for team defenses to adjust to (he loves to take the shots that team defenses want him to take) and makes it very hard for teammates to stretch the floor (planting yourself in the corner isn't very useful if your teammates aren't making defenses collapse around the rim or close out hard towards the slot). It's always been hard for me to understand why Ujiri, who seems to win every trade he ever makes, continues to throw money at DeRozan.
Vegas Over/Under: 54
Here's another team that I think is quite good. But in what is becoming a theme, I think that most outside observers are overestimating the impact of some of the more high-profile trades the team has made.
Let's start with the acquisition of Gordon Hayward. Hayward is, by our metrics, absolutely a star, and thus, you'd think that adding him would have a large impact on the team's expected wins. The problem is that Hayward will, by and large, not be replacing the production of an average player, but rather the production of two very good players (Bradley and Crowder). I think Hayward is likely to shine in Boston's system, I'm just not convinced it's going to be a giant leap in wins produced.
The other big acquisition was that of Kyrie Irving. He's an extremely versatile scorer who combines a good outside shot with an uncanny ability to finish at the rim (given his size). He's always been an efficient scorer, and this is what makes him a very good player -- I'm just not certain it makes him a very good *point guard*. In particular, the fact that he needs to find his own shot to be effective means he doesn't do a great job maximizing the strengths of role-players that surround him, and in roster construction, he's definitely one of those players where the old adage that "there's only one ball" is pretty important. This was one of the reasons he was always a pretty poor fit next to LeBron James.
We'll see soon enough what effect, if any, Brad Stevens will have on this, but for the moment I find it hard to believe that replacing Thomas, a great shooter and a decent passer who plays poor defense, with Irving, a great shooter and reluctant passer who plays mediocre defense, is really going to have a net positive impact on wins.
There are question marks around how many minutes younger players will play, and I'm very worried about the power forward spot -- I think Boston is going to run out a lot of "small ball" lineups that might include a power forward who can't rebound or defend in the post, two scary propositions. Boston is certainly going to contend in the East, but I'm not bullish on the team out-performing last year's win total.